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Casement, P. (1986). Interpretation: fresh insight or cliché?. Free Associations, 1(5):90-104.

(1986). Free Associations, 1(5):90-104

Interpretation: fresh insight or cliché?

Patrick Casement

When we find ourselves using similar forms of interpretation with several different patients, it is probable that we are becoming stereotyped and repetitive. And when this repetition develops into cliché interpreting, it is likely to promote an intellectualization of the analytic experience. How then can we recover that freshness of insight which alone can promote therapeutic change? This is the problem I wish to consider with you today.

Typical examples of cliché interpretation are: ‘You are really talking about me’; You are seeing me as your mother; You are experiencing separation anxiety; You are rendering me impotent; You are experiencing castration anxiety; You are making envious attacks upon my understanding.

I haven't yet heard all these statements rolled up into one single interpretation. That really would be a new event! But each separately is well on the way to becoming a cliché. Examples like these are common in the analytic literature, which makes me wonder how frequently they may be used in the consulting-room.

We cannot always avoid saying things like this to our patients, but the effectiveness of such interpretations is dulled through overuse. Also, when these come to be regarded as universal truths, we can lose touch with the individual. Therefore, when a stereotyped interpretation is foremost in our thinking, it is often better to delay and to look for some neutral bridge that can lead towards subsequent interpretation.

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